Seasonal Flamewar Disorder

Most of the listservs I receive and most of the online fora I frequent are prodominantly populated by academics. Academics, as you know, have a fairly predictable year-end cycle of finish, grade grade grade, and finish again. This is repeated in April through June though different people’s schools finish at different times, while Christmas affects most schools in a similar way. It also affects other businesses, so I think it may not be limited to academics.

Every year, a major flamewar breaks out on at least one of the lists to which I subscribe, or on one of the fora I read. Usually more than one. It always follows the same pattern: someone posts something mildly controversial (or not, as the case may be). Someone else takes offense or otherwise objects and responds quickly and anonymously. Everyone then goes absolutely nuts. It’s standard flamewar stuff, with some people trying to debate seriously while others pick and choose single lines (not even sentences) out of others’ posts and treat them as if they are logical propositions that stand on their own. That, mixed with a good dose of ad hominem (or ad feminem) rounds it all out.

In fact, right now, every email that’s arrived in my inbox (remember, kids, it’s christmas eve, even for us children of the covenant), with the exception of the digest list for bass players(1), is connected to one of these flamewars. I am sure that I have participated in past years but my New Relationship To E-Mail prevents me from doing so now. Or maybe I’m just older and mellowed.

Anyway, I am coining an appropriate term for this particular annual disorder. And I am doing it on the most gentile of holidays, when all we hear about is peace and good cheer and shopping, but all that sits in my inbox is bile, nitpicking and howling.

Oh yeah, I’m having a lovely visit with my parents. I think we might go to a museum today.

1. The bassists’ list is not exempt. Earlier last week or the week before, someone posted a query on my bassists’ list about Canadian audiences for music. He said he loved playing in Canada and going to shows because audiences seemed better educated and/or more interested in music. He wondered if others shared his impressions. I replied and mentioned some of the things I’d noticed going to shows as well as how impressed I am with the public funding of the arts here. Some other guy got on and posted a self-described leftist rant (I didn’t find it to be so leftist) about the decline of public funding for the arts in Canada. Then a full-on flamewar about Canadian politics ensued. I think the last post on the subject was an American extolling the virtue of the free market system. The moderators finally shut it down. (I love moderated lists.) Remember, this flamewar started from someone saying he liked playing gigs in Canada and asking whether others also enjoyed playing in Canada. There was nothing hostile or flameworthy in it. Textbook case.

4 replies on “Seasonal Flamewar Disorder”

  1. I was once flamed as a “leftist cappuccino drinking do-gooder” on a blog for also mentioning something generally positive about Canadian arts funding versus US funding… Oh, I also said Montreal was generally tolerant of immigrants, compared to many US cities (having lived in a few including hideous, racist, right wing Boston), and was additionally excoriated for my “naive” view of Canada. Clearly I’m delusional and pollyannaish in my observations of Canada…

  2. Hmm. I remember that comment, Ms. Worker, and I’m so sorry you were hurt by it. Though I can’t speak for the writer, I don’t think it was meant as a flame. I think the writer was being over-the-top sarcastic (which he tends to do a lot on his own blog), and not specifically flaming you but rather trying to bring everyone down to earth a bit.

    This discussion makes me wonder what counts as a flame: Is it the actual comment, or the reaction of the person it’s aimed at?

  3. I think of a flame as consisting of either of two things:

    1. Attacking the poster rather than having a discussion.

    2. Attempting to score points rather than having a discussion.

    Flamewars are also characterized by people breaking down posts line by line and reading each sentence fragment as uncharitably as possible in an effort to cast the person whom they’re flaming in the worst possible light.

    That doesn’t answer the intent question. I’m sorta on the fence about that one.

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